Amid all the thousands of tragic tales that September day, there was one which hit particularly close to home.
Michael Tarrou was a Greek Cypriot American who was a flight attendant on board the United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles which was flown into the South Tower of New York’s World Trade Center. The 38-year-old Tarrou was most likely stabbed to death by the hijackers before the plane crashed. Flying with Tarrou was his 29-year-old fiancée, Amy King.
The Cypriot victim – whose now deceased father, Dr James Tarrou, was a prominent member of the Cypriot community in the US – was born in New York and had been working for United Airlines for ten years. He had met Amy through work and the couple tried to work on a similar schedule in order to spend as much time together as they could. Tarrou left behind a nine-year-old girl from his previous marriage.
Remembered by all who knew him as extremely kind mannered and caring, his now 75-year-old uncle who resides in Larnaca recalls the day the news came. “I saw what was happening in New York on TV and immediately called up my brother James,” says Achilleas, his voice stuttering.
“The moment he picked up the phone he was in absolute shock and distress. He told me that Michael had called him from the plane to tell him about the hijacking and that he was trying to battle it out; he told his dad that he was trying to save the situation. We all imagine that he put up a real fight. But to no avail, in the end he was an unfortunate victim.”
But what his uncle will never be able to understand is that Michael had previously told his dad before getting on that flight that he had a bad feeling that something was going to go wrong.
“He didn’t want to board that plane, he had some kind of weird premonition, but I guess he just had to get on with his job,” says his uncle.
“He was a happy man, just starting out in life who had a dream of becoming a pilot,” explains Achilleas. “He was so humble and so very intelligent at the same time. He has left a gap in our lives that will never be replaced. The same goes for his now 19 year daughter. How can she ever get over the pain of such a horrible thing? ”
As news of Tarrou’s death reached family members in America and beyond, other stories also began to leak back home about other Cypriots working at the World Trade Center who miraculously managed to narrowly escape the tragedy.
Tassos Zambas, who worked at the WTC, said he was just arriving in the area when the first plane struck the building. “I walked into the WTC1 which was next to my office to find out what happened and saw people running around like mad,” he said. “The police were shouting that we had to leave the building immediately. I went out and saw pieces of glass and concrete everywhere. There was a thick cloud of smoke but many people had not yet realised what happened.”
After the second attack, Zambas saw some objects hanging out of the windows of the towers. “I didn’t realise that it was people waving handkerchiefs for help. After a while I saw people jumping from the windows of the buildings. I guess they preferred to die like this than to burn alive.”
Another Cypriot named Constantinos Koutras who lived near the WTC had only moved into a flat next to the twin towers a couple of weeks before 9/11.
“It was about 8.30 am and I was getting ready for breakfast when I heard the sound of a plane flying really close and then a bang,” he said. “I went to the window of my fourth floor flat and saw the WTC1 on fire.”
At that point he noticed people running away from the vicinity in a panic as others made frantic calls on their mobile phones. The area then got dark in seconds and filled with smoke.
“The smoke was getting in although all the windows were shut. At some point I made the big decision and left the apartment,” he recalls. “On the streets policemen were supplying people with oxygen masks…everything was grey, everyone was crying. I heard that there were body parts on the ground, arms and legs, so I tried not to look down.”
At that point the second tower then collapsed. “I simply realised that something was terribly wrong.”